UPDATED 7/13/11 5 p.m.

At a recent bill-signing ceremony, state Sen. Clayton was among several Native Hawaiian lawmakers applauding a new law recognizing Hawaiians as the state’s indigenous people.

Act 195 also establishes a roll commission to count qualified Hawaiians as a first step toward government self-determination.

Hee, a Democrat, told the audience gathered July 6 at Washington Place that he feels a direct connection to the 1893 overthrow and the 1898 annexation of the Hawaiian Kingdom, as his grandparents were born around that time.

The senator continued: “Because no Pacific Island experienced colonization at a greater loss than Hawaii. The loss of the language was the loss of the identity. The loss of the identity was the loss of our dignity.”

Is it true? Civil Beat is on it.


OK, here’s what we found out.

Terence Wesley-Smith, director of the Center for Pacific Island Studies at UH Manoa, says Hee is “probably correct in a general sense, although obviously it depends on how you understand the process of colonization and how you evaluate its impacts.”

Wesley-Smith, who answered Civil Beat’s inquiry Wednesday via email, continued:

“Specifically, what does he mean when he talks about loss? I think Hawaii is a strong candidate because:

1) unlike most other Pacific Island places, it was a settler colony and Hawaiians were quickly outnumbered by others;

2) population decline in the first century after colonial contact was extreme by any standards;

3) unlike most other Pacific Islanders, Hawaiians lost control of their land (and therefore their autonomy) early on;

4) Hawaiians remain economically, politically, and culturally marginalized in their own land;

5) unlike most other Pacific Island territories, Hawai`i became incorporated into the colonial power, rather than achieving independence from it.”

When asked about other Pacific Islanders who suffered tremendous losses because of colonization, such as the Marshallese, Wesley-Smith said “there may be other island places where some aspects of loss were as extreme or even more so.” 

“For example, the people of Bikini effectively lost their homeland to nuclear testing, Banabans were relocated to Fiji by the British to make way for phosphate mining, a high proportion of the people of Rapa Nui were captured and forced to work in the mines of Peru, etc.,” he said.

“But the scale, intensity, and longevity of the colonial experience in Hawaii tends to set it a part as a special case. Other comparable candidates might be New Caledonia, Guam, and Aotearoa, but in the latter case Maori have managed to retain more of their land and culture, are better represented in the political system, and have some access to redress for historical grievances through the Waitangi Tribunal.”

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